By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
A throng of Seabrook residents greeted the Seabrook Island Town Council as Mayor John Gregg called the Jan. 28 meeting to order. The minutes of three previous meeting were approved, and appropriate nods to parliamentary observances were made. Gregg then turned to the financial report for December, also known as the end-of-year-report for the town.
Seabrook finished the year with an overall fund balance of nearly $5.2 million. December revenues were more than $298,000, largely attributed to a combination of franchise fees from Berkeley Electric and the local-option sales tax. Revenues for the year added up to $1,566,534.48, or about 81% of the budgeted amount. It bears repeating that the difference in the budget’s projections reflects the amount transferred from the general fund at the close of 2018 for road repairs. The roughly $750,000 is neither income nor expense, and, despite its deflating effect on projections, including it in the books is a matter of good accounting.
Expenses of $150,000 in December brought costs for the year to $1,234,569.60, or about 64% of budget. Translating the figures, Gregg informed attendees the town has an excess of revenues for 2019 of nearly $332,000. The extra funds will come in handy, as made apparent by Gregg in consultation with Council member Barry Goldstein, who was elected, in part, on the weight of his background in engineering. He suggested the town could save a buck by removing one of the two bike paths paralleling Seabrook Island Road. He is also looking at the best of breed solution for intermittent flooding occurring around Town Hall and for maintenance due along Seabrook Island Road.
Simply repaving the road, which is already past its scheduled life expectancy, will cost the town an estimated $750,000. Raising the roadbed to the generally accepted standard of 6.5 feet above sea level will cost $1 million.
Proactively raising it to 7 feet will cost closer to $2 million, and there’s no guarantee the Federal Emergency Management Agency will deem the project worthy of partial funding as a “hazard mitigation” step until after the project is underway or complete.
Council member Skip Crane recommended adding Seabrook resident Art Jones to the Public Safety Committee. The group met on Jan. 13 and focused on the Disaster Recovery Council’s after-action report for the hurricane exercise held on the 6th.
Consultant Scott Cave will assist with incorporating solutions into the town’s comprehensive emergency plan, which will keep the plan up to date.
Council member Jeri Finke proposed a Shore Birds Steward Program modeled after the Marine Mammal Network’s dolphin education program. The budget-neutral project is being launched by the Seabrook Island Birders in coordination with the Audubon Society, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, Finke explained the new group and the island in general would benefit from official recognition by the town. The idea received unanimous approval.
Gregg received unanimous support as well of his decision to enter into an agreement with FEMA as the next step in getting reimbursed for expenses related to Hurricane Dorian. He also said Seabrook Island Turtle Patrol is asking for $5,000 to fund its efforts this year. The mayor promoted the expenditure as the first of its kind for the town. He also agreed to pursue additional appearances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra on the island. He then garnered unanimous support for Art Jones’ membership on the Public Safety Committee.
Town Administrator Joe Cronin took the helm and addressed a number of miscellaneous issues, which amounted to Seabrook winning a Monopoly beauty contest. The town accrued more than 100,000 points from use of its credit card, which he redeemed for a $55 windfall. Encouraged by the results, he went to the state treasurer’s office unclaimed monies site and found another $75 for the town, as well as unclaimed funds for several staff and Council members. He concluded with the announcement the town hired Ed Rooney on a part-time basis to enforce its ordinances in the off season – and maybe to negotiate with aggressive turkeys.
Turkeys aren’t just for thanksgiving anymore. They have come out from the Lowcountry’s shadows to shake their tail feathers and proudly make their presence known. The traffic jams they spawn are celebrated on Kiawah, though Seabrook residents don’t seem quite as pleased by this window into the wild. Three attendees complained about the threat turkeys pose. One unidentified resident insisted the turkeys are “dirty, diseased and harmful” and that, “we derive no benefit from them being here.” The comments came as the Council considered ordinance 2020-02.
“This is not a call for action,” explained the mayor.
Gregg went on to explain that the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association acknowledged similar complaints without calling for eradication of the American avian icons. However, it seemed like a good time to address shortcomings in the town’s ordinance, which prohibits the discharge of firearms.
Ordinance 2020-02 passed unanimously and generalizes some of the language used. For example, the old ordinance specified killing deer but will now allow the culling of any threats from wildlife with specific approval from the Council. Seabrook’s ordinance also had the word “pistol” embedded, which was replaced with the term “handgun” to be consistent with state laws.
Ordinance 2020-01 also passed unanimously. The measure is a second amendment to the Planned Unit Development for the Village at Seabrook (Area 6 and/or Lake Entry Tract) and provides for consistency in future development at the site.
Leon Vancini said the Seabrook Island Utility earned $250,000 in 2019 but continues to operate at a loss overall. He seemed pleased to report SIU closed out a number of costly capital improvements during the year but warned that more were on the way, including $39,000 for Phase I and II expansion of the retaining ponds. He said the solution to SIU’s deficit is to monitor costs, don’t borrow money and stretch out capital projects.
Seabrook resident Frank Stare was back in Council chambers to lament the lack of a boundary between his property and SIU. The natural barrier has eroded to nothing, and SIU has declined the opportunity to undertake mitigation. Stare’s house is for sale and he read two letters from realtors that made no bones about the lack of interest in his house – there is no barrier between him and SIU. Stare continues to hope one of the island’s organizations will step in.